Ellie was on her stomach in the middle of the kitchen floor, and I had stepped over her a hundred times. Our small, galley kitchen is a favorite play place for all of the kids, and the obstacle course they create with their bodies while I am cooking supper is nothing new.
Her knees were bent and her ankles crossed in the air while her swinging feet moved back and forth to music. The beloved portable karaoke machine was propped in front of her and with one hand propping up her chin and the other pushing buttons to flip through the songs, I couldn’t help but notice how old my two-year-old looked.
In her own little world, interrupted only occasionally to stand up and obey song lyrics like “Put your right foot in” or “Take your right foot out,” she seemed to not even notice that I was there. But I knew that she was in that room underneath me for a reason.
I often end the day feeling guilty. I am pretty sure that means I am a normal parent. It seems that if you are doing parenting the right way, then you wake up every morning ready to do better than the day before only to be pulled in a other directions that ruin those plans.
After lots of yelling and working through Plans A, B, C, D and E, you find yourself, just before falling asleep, tallying up all of the sugar and chicken nuggets you let the kids have throughout the day and beating yourself up over how you haven’t taught them to tie their shoelaces yet, even though they all still wear Velcro shoes.
Most days, the lion’s share of my guilt lies with what I could have done differently with Ellie. There are many places where she is behind developmentally and so much reason for early intervention, so it is easy to find things that we could practice to get better. Always, I could do more with her.
Compounding the guilt, my brain knows that no matter how much more I do or how much harder I push her, there is nothing that will take away the Down syndrome, but gosh, my heart sure tries. And, yes, I feel guilty for feeling that way too.
I notice that I blow past her most of the time because she takes so much of my time. There are too many things on my to do list and instinctively I just keep moving from one thing to the next, rather than taking a pause to wait for her to respond.
She has had some trouble with discipline lately, at home and at school, and I want to get to the bottom of it. She has the same unwavering determination as her father, so telling her not to do something does not work.
There is a delay in her understanding of the words that are coming out of my mouth at play too. Both of those combined with her inability to clearly communicate with anyone must be very frustrating for her. Of course she acts out to get our attention.
Later that night after dinner, I was back in the kitchen loading the dishwasher. She assumed the same position on the floor for me to step over. Silently, I started to get annoyed that she was in the way.
I thought back over the day and how I had heard a lot more “Up!” than usual with her chubby little arms and hands stretched high for me to pick her up while she stood on the tops of my feet. Earlier, I stirred food on the stove with one hand while the other was holding up the waistband of my sweatpants because she was tugging on the hem around my ankle my to get my attention.
Almost like she could read my mind, in that moment, she walked over to the kitchen garbage and put her hands in it. I wanted to yell, but something told me to give to her instead of taking away.
Without saying a word, I picked her up and washed her hands in the sink. I took her to her room and put on her shoes. We walked out the front door and I let her pick which direction we would go.
We just walked around the block. She babbled to me the entire way. She held my hand, waved at passing cars and blew kisses to the birds. She signed and tried her best to say words I had never heard her say before, looking up to me to nod my head in confirmation and understanding.
“Fff-lower,” she said very forcefully as we walked by some blooming weeds. It was the first time I had ever heard her attempt that word or one that started with an “F” and immediately I felt thankful for taking these few minutes, leaving the dirty dishes behind, for the pause that she needs from me.
She was so excited that she stopped, pulled her hand free from mine, squatted down and jumped about an inch off the sidewalk – something that I have been watching her work on in physical therapy and at home for months.
There has never been a bigger smile on a kid’s face than the one she wore that evening.
Heather Honaker is circus ringleader for three kids 4 and under — two typical, one not, but they all think they are special. You can follow along as the messiness unfolds around her family by reading the Typically Not Typical blog.